Since its inception with the purchase of a small farm in 1971, the family business at Washingpool has always been ahead of its time. Long before diversification was a buzz word the family saw that in order to survive and prosper, income was needed beyond the small dairy herd and so Washingpool Farm Shop was born. Initially it was an informal affair in the old chicken house, a way to market the fruit and vegetables grown on the farm; then with the addition of two shops in town and two market stalls, they ventured into self-service. The infiltration of the supermarkets hit sales and so in 2000 they opened their significantly larger out of town store as it exists today. The Bridport greengrocery stores are long gone but Washingpool retain a town centre presence with a market stall outside no.21 West Street every Saturday.
The business is a true family affair, with three generations now involved. Simon Holland, nephew of founder Noel Eveleigh showed me around. The site is 80 acres in total, including a series of fishing lakes; 10 acres are laid to fruit and veg production, as well as 5 poly tunnels. Although the farm is not organic (due predominantly to the need to protect the potatoes from blight) use of chemicals is kept to an absolute minimum, resulting in an ecologically diverse farm environment. I visit in “the hungry gap”, a time in the farming calendar when little is being harvested. Due to poor weather, the seasons’ mainstay of purple sprouting broccoli has not been a success. Little will be ready until mid-April when the first of the poly-tunnel crops, radish, spinach and salad crops will appear. From then on and throughout the season an ever changing array of seasonal produce will make its way from the fields and tunnels onto the shops shelves.
Besides wholesale to nearby food businesses and restaurants and some surplus of particularly abundant crops such as courgettes and runner beans (which are sent to market), all produce is sold directly to the consumer. Potatoes are a mainstay for the business – with 100 tonnes, 4000 bags – harvested annually. These are stored in traditional straw clamps – more environmentally friendly than modern refrigeration methods. Alongside all the traditional British staple vegetables and soft fruits – redcurrants, blackcurrants and gooseberries – new and innovative crops create interest for the customer; last year cucamelons (grape sized cucumbers) made an appearance and this winter flower sprouts (purple cabbage-like brussel sprouts) were a popular addition. The farm is constantly reacting to changes in buyers habits, in recent times “dirty” potatoes have declined in popularity, as more convenient new potatoes have come to the fore and salad demand has moved away from the larger hearted lettuces, to trendy baby leaf varieties.
The family keep around 90 North Devon Red Ruby cattle for beef and 40 Texel cross sheep, who will by the time of publication, be joined by an abundance of new lambs. By late summer Washingpool “spring lamb” will grace the fridges of the shop. From the car park venture round to the left of the shop and you will come across the farms pet pigs, soon to farrow – the piglets will grace Open Farm Sunday on the 5th June. Alongside the lawn and children’s’ play area are the chickens, foraging on waste fruit and veg; their eggs available in the shop- yolks orange and rich – the result of a varied natural diet.
Always with an eye on the future, the latest project for the family, led by Victoria Holland, is Discover Farming. Supported by Melplash Agricultural Society, with sponsorship from Mole Valley and Magna Housing amongst others, the scheme aims to connect Bridport youngsters with the countryside. Housed in a mobile classroom provided by Dorset County Council, farm visits are offered to schools. Here children have a chance to discover how food gets to their tables, why the land on which it is grown is so important and hopefully be inspired to become the pioneers of food and farming for the future.
The Washingpool family: Noel Eveleigh (farm), Gillian and Alan Holland (shop), Bryony Brock (restaurant and shop), Jeremy Brock (farm), Victoria Holland (Discover Farming, shop and finances) and Simon Holland (overall management) – exude warmth, passion and belief in the business they have fostered over many years. It’s a true asset to the Bridport community and it is clear to see why the awards just keep on coming.